23 Aug 2014
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Teachers Fight 'Insulting' Merit-Based Bonuses for RIH Superintendent

The Ramapo Indian Hills Board of Education approved a 15% bonus for the interim superintendent Monday night, but not before rewording some of the bonus criteria district teachers objected to.

Teachers Fight 'Insulting' Merit-Based Bonuses for RIH Superintendent

The Ramapo Indian Hills Board of Education approved merit-based bonuses for the district’s interim Superintendent Monday night, but not before rewording some of the bonus criteria that district teachers said made them feel, “demeaned and insulted.”

The board initially proposed a merit-based bonus structure for Superintendent Ernie Palestis that included five qualitative and quantitative criteria on which his performance would be evaluated. If Palestis successfully completed the criteria, he would receive a 15% bonus, or about $23,500.

Representatives of the Ramapo Indian Hills Education Association Teachers’ Union spoke out against the criteria at the board meeting Monday, saying that criteria like raising AP test scores and increasing the HSPA scores of classified students were too dependent on them to be the basis of the superintendent’s bonus.

“If the goal of raising the total average score on certain AP tests is achieved, will every RIHEA member get a merit [bonus]?” union VP Cherylin Roeser, an AP English teacher at Indian Hills, asked.

“I am guessing that the answer is no…These goals for the superintendent are built on the backs of other people…namely the professional staff.”

The goals, as originally proposed, were as follows:

  • Successfully implement the Stronge Educator Performance Evaluation System for Instructional Administrators in accordance with State mandates (2.5% of base salary)
  • Successfully implement the 1:1 Laptop Initiative (2.5% of base salary)
  • To increase the total average score on Advanced Placement Tests to 3 for the following courses: Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Calculus AB, Statistics, and European History (3.33% of base salary)
  • To increase the score of classified students on High School Proficiency Assessment in Mathematics by 5% (3.33% of base salary)
  • Improve community communication and engagement with Franklin Lakes, Oakland, and Wyckoff (3.33% of base salary)

Board members said the idea of merit-based bonuses has become popular in districts throughout the state since the passage of the superintendent salary cap, which, in a district the size of RIH, limits Palestis’s salary to $157K.

“We’re not the only district that’s doing this,” Board member Elizabeth Pierce said.

“And we’re not making up these numbers. They come directly from the Executive County Superintendent.”

However, board members said they “heard the concerns” of the union, and spent about two hours in a closed session meeting rewording some of the criteria before passing the bonuses.

The criteria about the implementation of the districts 1-to-1 technology initiative and the increased communication remained unchanged. However, the board did change the other three:

  • Successfully implement the Stronge Educator Performance Evaluation System for administrators as required by statute in accordance with state mandates
  • To ensure that the total average score on the Advanced Placement tests will be no lower than three at either school for Calculus AB and European History
  • To reduce the percentage of classified students scoring in the partially proficient range on the mathematics High School Proficiency Assessment by 5%

The RIHEA reps had left the meeting by the time the new criteria were voted on, after midnight Tuesday morning.

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